Saturday, December 17, 2011

Cathedrals and Cream Cakes

Once past the dour guardian of the consulate's gate, the consulate staff was uniformly helpful and charming - if possessed of an unseemly passion toward crossed i's and dotted t's.
And recommendations for wonderful little coffee shops down the road while they searched our documents for both.
And within what was, under the circumstances, an astonishingly reasonable time frame, we had our visas.  And with one stroke of a pen, I was something that I had been...avoiding.
Formally, officially, and right there in black and white, I was an "Ama de Casa" - a housewife. 
The visa was processed in so reasonable a time period that the immigrant engineer and his dependant housewife were left with half a day to spend wandering around Melbourne.
It was a cold and rainy day and we spent a happy afternoon ducking in and out of the rather splendid Victorian and Edwardian arcades that thread through the downtown business district.
            Rattling down St Kilda Road into the city in a rather spiffy green tram (all green enameled paint and polished wooden paneling) we climbed off in front of  Flinders St Station - a cheerful late Victorian pile on the bank of the Yarra River.

Dismounting, we were hit by a cloudburst and ran into the rather grandly named Australian Center for the Moving Image across the street.  Its made of carefully forward-leaning computer-generated sort of architecture, and frames what must be one of the most misguided 'public spaces' in Australia (Federation Square.  I'm not going there.  Enough people have.) and the architects commitment is total. Check out this very Starfleet entryway, whose fractal paneling frames a (rather fabulous) bookstore and a doughnut shop (less fabulous, but the coffee is alright.)
            I particularly like the inflatable air-lock squeezed into the large open archway to keep in the central heating inside in winter.  Seamless and unnoticeable until you're well inside the building.

Caught in another squall, we slipped into St Paul's Cathedral.  It's a very pretty church - delicious licorice-striped Victorian Gothic.  I wanted information on the whos and the whats of the building, and I went to pay my respects at a small information booth next to the rear doors. 
            "Are you American?"  The elderly lady manning the booth asked us.
            "Canadian." Mr Tabubil said.
           "Oh my."  She said. "We get all sorts in here, but you're the first Americans I've had today!  What do you think of our beautiful cathedral?"
            We allowed as how we thought that it was all rather pleasing.
            The lady smiled proprietary.  "Isn’t it."  She said.  "Such a beacon of light!" She beckoned us close to her and said, very suddenly, "You're American.  Tell me  - how do you deal with your black problem?"
            And while we stared at her dumbstruck, she proceeded to give us a precise and potted history of how Australia had failed to use sufficient force in dealing with its own little problem, and how the only realistic solution must involve the use of barbed wire and "concentration camps for every single aboriginal - man and woman and child."  The word Aboriginal was said with a particular twist to her lips.  We presumed that Americans should take notes.
            And while we backed away, the dear woman tried to sell us postcards of Jesus on the Cross.
            St Paul's needs to get that woman the hell out of PR.  And possibly into a few classes on remedial catechism. 
            And we felt very grateful that we were about to fly six thousand miles and didn't have to worry any more about loving that particular strain of Australian neighbor.

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